lost in translation

“miss, to whom shall i charge your bill?”

i snapped out of the series of laughter booming around our table (my danish divemaster was recounting a funny but in a terrible kind of way dive experience he has with a group of asian divers) as the waitress called my attention.

“i’m sorry?”

she cleared her throat, “your bill? shall i combined it with him?” she cocked her head to Esben’s direction, the latter busy eating what is left with his grilled snapper while watching Daniel (my divemaster) and Nikolas (the belgian divemaster student) turning red with laughter. 

“oh. no, keep it separate, please.” i answered and with that, she walked away.

i have been spending too many weekends in sabang, puerto galera that i finally got used to a very strange dining culture.   back in the big city where i worked, and back to the small provincial town where i grew up,  bill settlement isn’t quite practiced this way. 

it is done this way: the restaurant gives you just one bill for everything, regardless of whether or not one or each of you is going to pay for the meals.  in cases where it is the latter, either one would pay it first and the settlement goes much later after the waitress has gone or each of you would look at the bill, give the “handler” your share, and the handler counts the money and give it to the waitress.  i do agree there can be quite a confusion afterwards but it worked well for us.  it was one dinner we shared, and we were particularly satisfied with one bill for it.

the fact that it doesn’t happen like that in sabang area is quite a culture shock.  for me, it is such a waste of paper.  perhaps, for people who invented that idea, it is customer service.   

but after a while, one gets used to it.  i did.

what i cannot get used to, however, after weekends and weekends of frequent dining out in sabang is that same question every waitress is asking:

miss, to whom shall i charge your bill?

the guys automatically get their own bills for the food they ordered.  i get to be asked first of that question before i get mine.  i wouldn’t have mind it if one of these guys indeed are paying for my dinner. (although, you couldn’t really blame somebody for inviting you out for dinner where you have to pay for it yourself because if you can splurge for three dives a day, it is automatically assumed you can afford the dinner yourself.)  i wouldn’t have mind it if it was the first time i came to eat at these restaurants. 

but i always pay for my own dinner. 

the sad thing about that whole experience is that i wouldn’t be asked that question if i was caucasian.  the fact that i am a filipina in a company of foreign men gives people a generalized idea that one of these guys are paying for my dinner. 

not so long ago, one of the boatmen of the dive shop i exclusively dive with asked my sister (during the time when she decided to come with me to sabang and see what the diving fuss was all about) if my boyfriend was caucasian.  she naturally asked why.

“because she is always here diving every weekend.”


“it is a very expensive hobby.” he muttered.

she vowed never to set foot in sabang ever again. 

the boatman, who turned out to be a really cool filipino guy, did not meant harm when he gave that statement.  filipina divers are not very common in the area, in fact, i am yet to dive with one.  the filipinas are rather seen frequenting the disco and girlie bars in the evenings, entertaining caucasians who referred to them as “friendly local girls” for whatever purpose it serves both parties.

it takes a while to get used to that.  i once had a discussion with daniel on this when he asked me how i felt watching these girls do what they do. 

i am past the stage of rage and disbelief, i told him, we always have a choice.  the girls chose this.

do you think they would if they have better choices at hand?, he asked.

they chose what is easier, quicker.

he shook his head, i do not want to accept that.

and why not? i asked.

because if that is true, then it is the saddest truth i’ve witness. he told me.

thinking about all these now, i thought about another thing: would my glorified presence in sabang makes a difference to the generalizations of the filipinas there? 

i do not think so.

for lately, i have become the symbol of all the evils money can do.  the things money can make possible: the multiple dives, the expensive gears, the sumptuous dinner i can pay for myself, the company of admirable men i effortlessly gain… the luxuries a long time ago i abhor. 

i know i must do something about this. 

but first, i must find myself.


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